Ghost Returns and Historical Memories in Zhang Yimou’s Gui lai and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver Miaowei Weng

miaowei weng


“Gui lai” in Chinese carries the same meaning as “volver” in Spanish: both mean “to return.” Volver, released in 2006, is a hard-hitting drama by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar; Gui lai, released in 2015, is a historical romance by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Viewing Volver as a modern update of Odysseus’s homecoming from the perspective of gender, Corinne Pache claims that “to raise the phenomenon of return is inevitably to start a conversation with Homer’s Odyssey, which is, the home to which all narratives of homecoming must themselves return” (55). Indeed, Odysseus’s homecoming, as a mythical ritual, goes beyond individual experiences and embodies human fate across nation and culture. As Gregory Nagy notes, return - in Greek, nostos - in Homer’s Odyssey refers to “homecoming,” a “song about homecoming” and a “return to light” (283). Differences between Gui lai and Volver aside, the two films show parallels with relation to these three connotations of nostos. More speci cally, both recount homecoming stories and use those stories to allude to historical memories; both use art, including songs and photographs, as means for the main characters to recover their memories; and lighting shapes the way the audience perceives the (non-)boundary between the dead and the living. Whereas a comparison of these two works shows different approaches to the concept of returning, the allegorical interpretations of both works in their respective sociopolitical contexts, in turn, shed light on these differences.

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